Crystal Palace High Level (known from 1898 as Crystal Palace High Level and Upper Norwood) was built on the side of Crystal Palace Parade. It was the southern terminus of the Crystal Palace and South London Junction Railway - the company founded to deliver flocks of daytrippers to the reconstructed Crystal Palace when it moved from Hyde Park in 1852. The company was later subsumed by the SECR.
The line opened to revenue earning services on the 1st August 1865.
As the line was specifically built to serve Joseph Paxton’s immense glass and steel masterpiece and its grounds, the station site was specially chosen to be as close as possible to the attractions, even though this entailed major engineering works.
Competition with the established Crystal Palace Low Level station further down Anerley Hill - opened by the London Brighton and South Coast Railway on 12th June 1854 as a branch off its main line south of Sydenham - led the High Level’s architect to indulge in more of a flight of fancy, echoing many of the design motifs of the Palace itself.
For the station to serve its intended purpose, easy access from the platforms to the pleasure grounds of the exhibition was essential, a route to link the station and the Palace with a visitor’s concourse of a suitably grand scale and lavish design.
The result of this requirement was a direct connection for first class passengers from the refreshment room situated on first floor of the station’s northern building, through a wide vaulted tunnel beneath Crystal Palace Parade to staircases which led up into the Central Transept of the Palace itself.
As a grand entrance to perhps the most startling structure to have ever graced the London skyline, the effect must have been breathtaking.
The station building has long gone, but the portals of the first-class tunnel can still be easily seen. viewed from the new housing estate below in the first picture and from Crystal Palace Parade above in the second.
The tunnel and the craftsmanship that was invested in it can only be described as spectacular; it thoroughly deserves its special status a Grade 2 listed structure. As you can clearly see, the entrances and interior are finished in contrasting red and white brick and tiles, giving an effect that is hard to capture in photographs.
The entrances are on both sides of Crystal Palace Parade and their location is easily spotted by the fairly high brick wall on one side of the road and the bricked up pedestrian access directly opposite.
The high wall hides the staircases which sit inside a fairly deep well. The whole area is now sealed inside a fenced compound to protect the public from several deep and hidden drops. The staircase also has a separate gate just inside its entrance.
On the station side, behind the walled-up section, a staircase leads down. A safety fence is installed but this is nearly always open thanks to the curiosity and persistence of some of the local kids. Descending the stairs brings you out onto the entrance platform where there are four entrances barred with heavy gates. You can’t go any further than this but you can see into and through the tunnel very well.
This is a lovely little Victorian gem hidden just out of sight of the thousands who tread the bustling parade above every day. A local group is currently working to try and restore the tunnel as a public right of way to cross the busy A212. Their work may receive an unexpected fillip in the near future thanks to a new redevelopment plan for a controversial but quite beautiful glass’bubble’ to sit atop the Palaces old foundations. The design, by Wilkinson Eyre Architects of Gateshead Millenium Eye bridge fame, is being actively promoted by the Crystal Palace Campaign, the same pressure group that thwarted the 2001 attempt to build a multiplex cinema on the western fringe of the park.
We hope that the High Level Foot Tunnel can find a new use to keep it out of the hands of the vandals who are doing their usual grim and stupid work while it remains hidden from view.
- Londons Lost Railways by Charles Klapper (Book Club Associates)
- Lost Lines of the Southern by Nigel Welbourn (Ian Allen)
- London Suburban Railway series - Crystal Palace (High Level) and Catford Loop (Middleton Press)